Q&A with Anne Marie Carrie
To tie in with Foster Care Fortnight, we invited you to put your questions about fostering to Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie in May 2012. You had plenty of questions, including how the decision to allow someone to foster is made, and the issues that face prospective fosterers.
Anne Marie Carrie has had many years of experience working with children. Barnado's works with more than 100,000 children, young people and families.
Q. Gettinghappy: What's your view of the new national contract, currently being drawn up by Celsis (Centre of Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland)? Do you think it will be an effective tool? Can we prevent a two-tier service for children if it is implemented? Where do you think the additional funding will come from to allow both providers and foster carers to effectively undertake all the responsibilities laid out therein?
A. Anne Marie: The national contract is being drawn up by Scotland Excel on behalf of the local authorities. We believe it is a potentially positive move but recognise there is still work to be done on the detail to ensure it meets the needs of all parties and that it is in the best interests of the looked-after children of Scotland. We, too, are concerned that there is not a two-tier system for children and we are trying to ensure that once the contract is finalised it will work to raise the standards for children in Scotland.
Q. Mrbojangles1: I've been fostering for a number of years and just wanted to know where you stand on a more nationalised system. It makes no sense (and is costly) that, despite being approved as a foster carer, I cannot foster for a different local authority. The cost to re-approve foster carers is mad.
If a doctor can work in a different NHS trust without having to re-train, and a teacher a work in a different school, why do I as a foster carer have to be re-approved every time I want to work somewhere else?
A. Anne Marie: We agree that more could be done to make approval as a foster carer portable, although for this to work well, some of the existing protocols for transferring should continue to apply to ensure that the move worked well for all involved.
It would remain important that the experience of working with one fostering agency would be transferred to the new agency, so some kind of reference would be needed on how the carer had worked with the children they were looking after and their previous agency.
Q. OhDoAdmitMrsDevere: Research has shown that children prefer to stay with extended family and that outcomes are better for these children. What is Banardo's stance on kinship care? Are they aware of the lack of financial and practical support available to family carers? Are you aware that kinship carers are often refused any social service support at all? Even though they are caring for the very same children as foster carers whose work is financially recognised (although I think foster carers are generally underpaid)? If kinship carers were better supported, there would not be such an acute shortage of foster carers.
A. Anne Marie: The law in England is very clear that in the first instance efforts should be made to see if any relatives are able to offer an appropriate long-term family home to children. Barnardo's agrees that, where this is in the best interests of the child, relatives should be offered support (including financial) where necessary to enable them to provide this care.
However, it's very important that relatives are carefully assessed to ensure they will be able to sustain the level of care offered throughout the child's life - this is vital as many children in these situations will have already had to endure a great deal of instability and difficulty in their young lives.
If a stable home life can't be provided over the longer term, then alternative, permanent care, needs to be found as quickly as possible. The situation in Scotland is different, with Kinship a distinct care setting, and we are working with other organisations like Children 1st and Citizen's Advice Scotland to secure greater support for kinship carers in Scotland.
Q. Bottersnike: I would like to ask your opinion on the 'professionalisation' of foster care, and the potential for making it a salaried profession, or at least something that paid a decent living wage. So many carers that we know are exhausted because they are struggling to cope with the demands of fostering plus managing an additional one or two jobs in the household just to pay the bills. I could imagine any change in status/pay would need to be reflected in increased levels of training/qualifications; is this being considered?
A. Anne Marie: As a member of Fostering Network, Barnardo's supports the Together for Change campaign, which works to raise precisely these issues and lobby central governments about them.
Q. Gettinghappy: What do you think about registration (in Scotland with the SSSC)? I believe that making fostering a registerable profession would improve standards and would go some way to further protecting children.
I am already on the childcare part of the register in Scotland and I cannot understand why foster care is not already registerable. What are your thoughts please?
A. Anne Marie: Barnardo's has signed up to the Together for Change campaign, which has been launched by the Fostering Network and we will continue to raise this matter with the Scottish Government.
Q. Devora: Although I adopted through the more conventional route, I'm really interested in the potential of concurrent planning to get children living with their adoptive families-to-be as early as possible. It breaks my heart that we were ready for my daughter from the moment she was born, but were only able to take her home nearly a year later - even though there was never any question she would be able to stay with her birth mother. This caused a lot of unnecessary trauma and heartbreak for her and, incidentally, for her foster carer who desperately wanted to keep her and wasn't allowed to.
Concurrent planning seems so obviously the way to go, even though I know it's not appropriate in all cases (the one adopter I know who has done this has had a very difficult time of it). Could you explain to us whether you think it could become the norm and what the obstacles are to making that happen?
A. Anne Marie: Barnardo's supports concurrent planning and placement, and is currently developing a service for concurrent planning in the North East of England.
For babies and very young children, where it is thought that there is a likelihood the parents and relatives cannot offer appropriate care, it is clearly better for them to be placed with adults who are willing to foster a child but, if necessary, are also able to commit to adopting the child should the court decide that the child should not be returned to its birth parents. This way, the risk is carried by the adults and the child is not moved from one family to another unnecessarily.
We also support the move to speed up the process to approve prospective adopters and foster carers. Good quality assessment work, clear communication with the birth parents and avoiding unnecessary court delays is essential, as the uncertainty and instability caused by delay can be emotionally damaging to the child.
Q. Marriedtoagoodun: We currently have an incredibly demanding placement. We are not allowed to see court transcripts and rely on the social worker who gives us snippets. The children we are dealing with are very vulnerable and we do not have confidence in our social worker. Why are foster carers not allowed into court routinely to be able to give evidence, correct misinformed facts and also be able to know what is happening in a case in order to be able to help the children they live with every day?
Our social worker visits the minimal amount of times she can and for the shortest period of time. The information she gives the children is not enough and leaves them full of questions that we are helpless to answer. Why are we trusted to cope on a daily basis and yet not considered professionally competent to be fully involved in case conferences and so on?
A. Anne Marie: While I can't comment on your specific circumstances, I appreciate that legal proceedings can create periods of uncertainty. If you feel that the best interests of the children you are caring for are not being addressed, you may wish to convey this in writing to the local authority that has placed the child with you or speak with the Children's Guardian.
Q. JustFab: I would love to foster, but would I even stand a chance when I have been in care, don't have any family and have had depression?
A. Anne Marie: I am so pleased you wish to consider fostering. Your experiences may provide you with the understanding and insight needed to look after many children who need a foster carer. Can I suggest you give us a call on 08000 277 280 to discuss your particular circumstances in more detail?
Q. Weeonion: I would be interested in fostering but have been told that I would have to give up my full-time employment. I am aware there is payment but have been told that it only covers when a child is actually placed with us. Is this correct? If so, there is no way we could ever consider it and it seems to penalise those who don't have the alternative income to cover when a child is not with them?
A. Anne Marie: There is no specific requirement for foster carers to be at home full time. It all depends on the age and needs of the child. Having said that, the foster carer would need to make special arrangements at the start of the placement to help the child to settle into their new family, as most children who are fostered will experience some anxiety about living with a new family, and need time spent on them to establish a relationship of trust with their foster carer. In most situations, it is also preferred that one parent is available to look after the child during holidays, after school and during any periods that a child is sick.
Foster carers receive a fostering allowance for each child's keep. This increases as a child gets older and usually covers food, clothing, household expenses, pocket money, bus/travel fares, holidays and birthdays/Christmas gifts. Barnardo's also pays a professional fee in recognition of the person's role as a carer.
Please call us on 08000 277 280 for more information, and so that we can find out where you are based and which of our local services would be best placed to help you with the next steps.
Q. Kadgie: I have a muscle wastage disease called CMT, which slightly restricts my capabilities. However, I have a 24-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter and don't work. When my daughter leaves home, I would like to consider fostering a child. Would I be precluded because I am disabled? I don't want to spend a year or so going through an application procedure if there is no point.
A. Anne Marie: Thank you for considering fostering - being disabled will not necessarily prevent you from becoming a foster carer. All medical issues are considered by an independent medical adviser who will advise as to whether a condition will affect your suitability. A member of our team would be happy to answer any further questions if you wish to call us on 08000 277 280.
Q. Laviniasmum: I would love to be a foster carer to babies aged up to the age of two, but I have been told by two local authorities to wait a couple of years until my children are older.
My children are 12, eight, five and two and my youngest starts nursery in September. I know it sounds like I have a lot on, but I know me and my husband would be able to provide a safe and loving home for a foster child or children. I was disheartened when we were told we couldn't go futher with our application. I just wish they could have done the home study got to know us better and seen how we are as a family. Have you any advice or would you say the same?
A. Anne Marie: Introducing another person into the family inevitably has some sort of impact on the existing children in a household as they are being asked to share their parents and their home. It is for this reason that, as part of the assessment, Barnardo's involves everyone in the household and explores the impact another child will have on the existing children.
Barnardo's also provides support to the children of foster carers as they can often hold the key to a successful placement. Research shows that 0-5 are crucial years for all children, therefore we must ensure that any change to the family dynamic takes into account the possible impact on all involved. So we would also encourage you to wait until your youngest is settled in school and then contact us to take the next step via barnardos.org.uk/fosteringandadoption.
Q. JugglingWithTangentialOranges: My friend has over 20 years' experience of being a nanny, and also grew up with fostered siblings, as her Mum was a foster carer. She has often thought about becoming a foster carer, but rents a small one-bedroom apartment.
Is there any way people like her could be approved for fostering and helped to find suitable accommodation, eg rented two or three-bed flat, so that they would be able to offer much-needed foster care to a needy child, or possibly siblings? It seems to me that asking for people who already have a spare room available must be cutting down on the number of potential foster carers considerably. Also, wouldn't it be worth considering, especially with younger children, that they could share a room with a child from host family?
A. Anne Marie: Unfortunately, from our experience approved carers who want to move to a larger property to make room for a foster child, may not necessarily be given preferential treatment in terms of housing. It might be appropriate for some children to share a room at first as they may prefer to do that, but this is assessed on a child-by-child basis depending on their individual circumstances. Generally, though, not having a spare bedroom will mean that your friend wouldn't be able to foster, as sharing a bedroom isn't appropriate in the long term.
Q. Scarlet5tyger: I have been a foster carer for some time now, own my own home and have always received positive praise in my annual reviews. A couple of years ago I was approved to foster additional children, but am prevented from doing so due to lack of bedrooms.
I am struggling to get a mortgage to move as, first, I am paid £200 a week. This is my only income as I am not allowed to work while I foster under-fives, and second, banks and building societies are reluctant to grant a mortgage on what they see as an insecure income. Is there any scheme to help carers like me? I am an already approved asset for the local authority, doing a good job and willing to help more children if I only had the room!
A. Anne Marie: Unfortunately, I cannot comment on your particular circumstances but it might be worth you contacting Fostering Network, the UK charity which supports the development of foster care and provides advice.
Q. MrsMcCawber: There is a specific problem in the Orthodox Jewish community - there is a belief that children must be kept in ultra-orthodox surroundings regardless. This precludes them from being taken into care and the community will do absolutely everything in its power to keep (vulnerable at-risk and abused) children out of care.
This will usually take the form of them being passed around the community, often with no more than a week in any one place, as obviously there is no financial remuneration for the host families and also because the host families tend to be large (as are most families in my community). Charities like Norwood are not trusted either, as they are not seen as religious enough. Do you think orthodox families should be recruited to become foster carers, and thereby at least make sure that children who are at risk will have somewhere approved and semi-permanent to go to?
A. Anne Marie: Clearly, children need to be protected from neglect and abuse whatever their cultural heritage or religion and they also need to have stable care. It is of concern that children's needs may be being 'hidden' because a community is afraid that the children will be separated from the religious upbringing, which is viewed as crucial. Their right to protection from harm is of paramount importance. Ideally, we would want to encourage orthodox religious families to come forward to seek approval as carers for the children of their community. To find your local Barnardo's fostering service please click here.
Q. Therealcooperk: Can you specifically foster a certain age of child - for instance, my husband and I would really like to care for pregnant teens. Is it possible to specialise in that way? Also, does having debt prevent you from fostering? We have a debt-management plan and are working towards clearing it, but wondered if not passing a credit check would preclude you from fostering?
A. Anne Marie: Yes, as part of the assessment to become a foster carer we will discuss with you the age of the child or children which best suit your skill and family circumstances. The detail of the age range of the children you will be caring for are noted when you are approved.
In relation to your debt plan, we need foster carers to be in control of their finances and for them to be able to maintain a child comfortably with fostering allowances. As you are on a debt plan it would seem that you are managing your debt - if that is the case, there should not be a problem. Please go to our website to find your local service or call us on 08000 277 280 to discuss your particular circumstances in more detail.
Q. TheRhubarb: What are your views on placing young children with much older foster parents, and what checks are made to ensure that these foster children are getting the care they desperately need?
A. Anne Marie: Foster carers need to be over the age of 21 but there is no actual upper age limit, although we will consider your age against the age of the child you could potentially care for. Approved foster carers with Barnardo's work as part of a professional team and a link social worker will work very closely to ensure that a child is receiving a high quality standard of care and support. Please contact your Barnardo's local fostering service to talk through the details of your situation at barnardos.org.uk/fosteringandadoption.
Q. Wiggy29: Is there a set rule on how old your own children have to be before you can foster? Second, I've seen people talking about giving up their employment to foster - is this only if you are fostering children under school age?
A. Anne Marie: Research shows that 0-5 are crucial years for all children, so we must ensure that any change to the family dynamic takes into account the possible impact on all involved. Our aim is always to find the right match both for the child looking for a foster placement as well as the children already living in those prospective foster families.
It is important to assess the age of the children in the household and ensure that we do not create a foster placement which would have a negative impact on a young family. There is no specific requirement for foster carers to be at home full time. But, depending on the age of the child, the foster carer would need to make special arrangements at the start of the placement to help the child to settle into their new family, as most children who are fostered will experience some anxiety about living with a new family, and need time spent on them to establish a relationship of trust with their foster carer.
In most situations, it is also preferred that one parent is available to look after the child during holidays, after school and during any periods that a child is sick. If parents can cover most of these, with support from close members of the extended family or friends, this should be OK. Thank you very much for your interest in fostering with Barnardo's and please do give us a call on 08000 277 280 if you'd like to chat this through in more detail.
Q. TheMagicFarawayTree: I'm aware of the work you do with children who have been, or are at risk of, being sexually exploited. In light of recent events that have been widely reported, are you taking any steps to expand your service, and how widespread would you say the problems of sexual exploitation are?
A. Anne Marie: Barnardo's is working to develop specialist foster placements for young people who are sexually exploited. We have over 15 years' experience in developing support services for children who have been sexually exploited and we now have a comprehensive training programme for carers, and a specialist support package to meet these young people's needs. If you would like to find out more please look at the specialist foster care for trafficked and exploited children and young people section of our website.